The Easter in You: An Eastertide Reflection

The following was given as a talk at a church prayer group in Smyrna, TN.

+In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In December of last year, I wrote an article for Laudare Outreach Ministries that went up a few days after Christmas day. This article, titled very similar to this talk, was called “The Christmas in You: A Christmastide Reflection.” Three important points were made in this piece. 1) Christmas, which had occurred four days prior, was not over and done at 12:00 midnight on December 26 (though it is often treated that way by both the secular world and Christians). 2) The road to Christmas that is Advent prepares us for the great Gift we are to receive on the 25th. And 3) There are major Eucharistic implications upon the spiritual life that come with Christmas – including the realization that Christmas comes to be, quite literally, in you with the reception of the Eucharist. I will be drawing heavily from “The Christmas in You” during this talk in order to set the tone and lead the way for how the Easter season fulfills the title of this present talk – how Easter becomes to be in you. If at the end you would like to read that article or this talk when it is posted up as an article, then I invite you to visit Laudare.org and head to our blog page for all my articles and the ones of our other writers.

Now, I invite you to think back to the end of last year 5 months ago. Think about the beginning of Advent and its culmination at the glorious moment of Christmas. It was a penitential time that late gave way to a season of rejoicing. Violet with a splash of rose (not pink!) were the predominant hues that greeted us for weeks at church followed by an outpouring of white. This time of the liturgical year had with it two major parts, Advent and Christmas, and they cannot be split up from one another. At the culmination at Christmas there was New Life with the Birth of Jesus. Compare that with the start of Lent 2 months ago leading to Easter. It was too a penitential time covered with violet with a hint of rose followed by white signaling the ushering in of newfound joy, and had two parts (Lent and Easter) that cannot be separated from one another; one necessarily begets the other. And it all culminated at Easter with the birth of New Life at the Resurrection of Jesus. I stress once more how you cannot separate these things – not Advent from Christmas or Lent from Easter, not the violet from the white, not the penance and suffering of the night from the joy that comes in the morning, and not the death that leads to Life. Moreover, the New Life of Christmas foreshadows the New Life of Easter birthed at the other time of the liturgical year and even prefigures the greater magnitude of it. The New Life of the Birth of Jesus foreshadows both the New Life of His Resurrection and our New Life gained through faith in Jesus. Furthermore, the New Life of the Resurrection foreshadows the New Life of the complete resurrection of all life at the culmination of existence itself when all redeemed life is reunited with God at the end of time.

Now it is Easter. Yes, it is still Easter. Eastertide to be exact. It still goes on. Jesus, though He rose from the dead by His resurrection, is not done with us. I hesitate to say “yet” at the end of that last sentence because though God places ultimately drawing us to Himself as the end of His great plan for us to be completed at the end of time, God, being the Supreme and Ever-Greatest Mystery, will always draw us closer and closer to Himself, and we will always be enraptured more and more by Him and His Love. We will always seek to know more of Him. Thus, God will never be “threw” with us. He will always give Himself to us. There will never be a “yet” at the end of that sentence. Furthermore, Easter didn’t just happen and end on the 16th of April and now it is over. Easter continues, and we are still in its midst, the midst of the “time above all to laud Him yet more gloriously.” We are presently living in the week of the 5th Sunday of Easter with two more Sundays of Easter glory to go until Pentecost, which will close out Easter liturgically but definitely not in our hearts because, as St. John Paul II once proclaimed, “we are an Easter people,” so let us continue with our hallelujahs!

To continue to set the tone I will talk more about the similarities of Advent/Christmas with the time we not only just experienced but of which we are still in. I will quote heavily from “The Christmas in You” article.

At the center of both Advent and Lent was a Great Event – with Advent the Event was Christmas. Of course we remember how it came with great anticipation, but, quoting from my past article, “it too often appears that when Christmas day comes everything seems to be over the next day – even for us Christians. Our Lord, the King of the Universe, God Himself, has just made it to His crib, and we are already off to the next thing, celebrating another babe (Baby New Year).” I went on to say that “even the secular world can be found still “celebrating” Christmas, or at least the “holiday season,” with its gleeful offerings of sales and 50 percent markdowns” after Christmas day has come and went. But the truth is that Christmas day [after the long time of Advent like Easter after Lent,] is only the beginning. Moreover, Christmas [and Easter] “stopping” all together after Jesus [has been] born [or has risen from the dead] is a serious problem amongst Christians.” After all there is still Christmastide from the Birth of Jesus to the Feast of His Baptism and Eastertide from His Resurrection to Pentecost, so there is still plenty to gaudete and laetare about during these times! And with Christmas there are deep Eucharistic meanings and implications of the spiritual life beginning with the very meaning of Christmas itself. I answered this in my past article:

* * *

From “The Christmas in You.” Post-article additions in [ ].

“And what is “Christmas?” To put it in a brief but substantive way, Christmas is the Word becoming flesh. [After Christmas day] Christmas is still going on but in what ways? Jesus is born, so we are in a state of rejoicing at the glorious fact that the Word has indeed become flesh among the children of men. However, Christmas is still happening in at least one other way that is distinct from celebrating Jesus’s Incarnation and Birth, which are events that already happened two millennia ago. If Christmas is the Word becoming flesh, where is this still taken place today for us to celebrate it? To ask the time-honored question, where’s the beef? Where’s the flesh?” [I went on to say] “on the altar and in our bodies.” [So during Christmas time what did this mean? It meant] “Every time we receive the Eucharist we have the chance to make a manger in our souls for Jesus to dwell, be born, and bring life to our souls. We have the chance to become little “Marys” (“Marios” for the fellas) and hold the incarnate Word within us. Furthermore, because we are Catholics and believe the things we do about the Eucharist, what I am saying is not just cliché-sounding pious talk. In a real sense this can actually happen by taking in Jesus’s very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. By the use of Jesus’s words during the consecration the bread and wine become the very same flesh of the Incarnation and dwells amongst us in the earthen vessels of our bodies. Christmas comes to be, quite literally, in us. But, just like 2000 years ago, He comes secretly and in silence, this time behind the appearances of bread and wine.”

[Practically in our spiritual lives it meant one thing:] “The Babe Christ is born upon the altar in the hands of the priest, and waits for us to come to Him as magi bearing the gifts of our souls, for the Lord pines not for gold and myrrh but for our very shoddy and sinful selves. We are a broken good. A second-hand toy of the devil, we were discarded after first use. Yet, God still wants us. Through Jesus, God salvages us from the trash-heap of a fallen world, repairs, restores, and grants to us a new purpose – to be His very joy, presents to the Father by hand of the Son wrapped by the Holy Spirit. Though, God bought us on a Black Friday, we did not come cheap. The price of His only Son was a hefty debt to pay; yet, He spared no expense. He had to have us out of His great love. But in order for us to be His possession we must first have Him as our only possession. We must freely give ourselves away.” [He brings us to the hands of the Father through the Eucharist, and once there] “God doesn’t stop there. He still pursues us. He comes for us daily in the Sacrament of the Altar. He seeks not only to have us, but also to be in us, and once there He begins to work from the inside in order to pull us closer to Himself.”

[To end my pulling from my past article, I went on to say that] “It is the will of the Father that Jesus gives Himself totally and defenselessly in the Eucharist, and by His exposition to us He teaches us how to become holy – through submitting ourselves to the will of God out of love for the salvation of souls. The first Christmas sent Jesus on the way to the Cross, and thus the small Christmases that occur during Mass must send us on our way to ours.”

* * *

Listen to that last part again. “The first Christmas sent Jesus on the way to the Cross, and thus the small Christmases that occur during Mass must send us on our way to ours”. Christmas must send Jesus on the way to Calvary, to Good Friday. So Christmas must send us on our way to ours as well – to our suffering passions during Lent, to our deaths on Good Friday, and, finally, to, if we are faithful to God, our resurrection Easter morning. Now do you see the inseparable connection of Advent and Christmas to Lent and Easter? If Christmas has this meaning and these implications, just imagine how much Easter is an even more glories time. And this became the inspiration for this talk, “The Easter in You.”

Now, lets think back to the start of Lent. What was your goal or goals? Was it to pray more? Was it to volunteer more? Was it to eat less or give up sweets completely? Whatever it was, these goals and others should have worked to achieve the best and most important goal – the same goal Jesus had during His “40 days of Lent” leading up to before He got to rise again – to die. The life we had is gone to us; we are dead. Rather the New Life that lives in us is the Life of Christ (remember that baptism you had). Thus, the goal of death must ultimately be our Lenten goal because as members of the Body of Christ, His Catholic Church, we were baptized into His Life, which was “given up as a ransom for many.” If Christ lives then we must live in Him. If Christ dies then we must die with Him. And if Christ rises from the dead, so must we – from the dead of sins, from the dead of fear, and from the dead of living lukewarm for the Gospel. Moreover, even in the observance of days, you see how much we Christian people are to be different from the world. The world did not observe Lent, and it never will. Come mid-Lent, maybe even earlier, the stores already had Easter stuff for purchase. The world and all those who belong to it want the very life that they have to die in order to attain like Christ did. But the world does not want to die. Do we? If yes, then how do we begin to die? Take a lesson from Lent’s corresponding time of Advent. Advent is a time for preparation, and, though it is also easy to forget, it is also a penitential time for the Church. Since it is both we must prepare for the great gift of Christmas by penance – chiefly a penance of waiting. By our Advent waiting, introspection, and humility anticipation for the great Gift we were about to receive we emptied ourselves out to be filled with it, the only present we ever really need. We took this lesson with us to Lent, and we began to empty ourselves again, but this time we gave up everything. Our very lives were not even left off the list. By our Lenten penances and mortifications we experienced passions leading up to our death at Good Friday with Jesus and our lying in the tomb Holy Saturday with the Body of Christ. Since it is Christ who lives in us, we truly died to the world, sin, and the flesh. By our Easter celebrations (which continue to now) and the renewal of our baptisms we have truly been brought back to life – reborn and refreshed to do the work of Christ. When Christ suffered we suffered. When Christ died we died. When Christ rose we rose.

So, finally, we are here. We are living Easter itself. Given all of what I covered connecting Advent way back to Easter now, what does it all mean practically for the day-to-day spiritual life of Catholics? For this we, like during Christmastide, look again to the altar and what enters our bodies as a result of what happens here on the altar. When the words of institution are spoken and bread and wine are consecrated into Jesus, the Flesh born on the altar is the same Flesh born at Christmas, the same Flesh that died at Calvary, and the same Flesh that rose from the dead. If “Christmas” means, most fundamentally, the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among men, then “Easter” must mean the Word becoming flesh and lifting men up to dwell with God.

If all this is true, we have no other choice but to live the Risen Flesh that we ingest. The Risen Christ appears in the hand of the priest, and then He visits us like He did the 500 witnesses when we come up to receive communion. He then endows us the Holy Spirit when we receive the Eucharist and then sends us out to preach, teach, and reach with the Good News of Easter – every Mass – every time. We participate so much in the Life of Christ that we too can offer up good sacrifices to the Father – our days, our struggles, our pains, and up to and including our lives because it is Christ who lives in us and not ourselves. The Father sees His Son when He peers at us, and when the Perfect Sacrifice is re-presented on the altar and Christ’s Life and Death are made actually present we die too because we are grafted on to Him as His limbs, but when He rises above the priest’s head then we rise up like the shinning dawn in the east.

We receive the Risen Christ when we receive Him in the Eucharist. So, thus, we have Easter in us. We must not die but live and live more abundantly. Let us not swallow up Christ into a bottomless pit of a soul, but rather let Him rest in a living one rising up to meet God.

+In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

+JMJ+

Allegory of the Net

Imagine that you live in a nice apartment. There’s a comfy bed, wall sized high def TV, and a smoking fast internet connection. Your basic needs are met. All of the chips and carbonated beverages you could want. Thousands of friends on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. Pretty much the average life here in America. Just one difference. You never leave your apartment. You never have actual contact with another human being.

Everything you know about the world outside your own four walls is what you have seen on television and the internet. A day like any other dawns. This day is different. You are forced out into the great outside world. Fear rises in you. Reality beyond the digital simulation beckons.

While you are out there you experience many new things. Seeing the sun rise bringing light and colors so beautiful you cannot help but to cry. Feel the solid thwack of a bat as a baseball is launched from it over the fence. Feel embarrassment when you see in another’s face that you have said exactly the wrong thing. Courage as you approach a girl who makes you believe that fairy tale princesses may not be such a fairy tale after all. Contentment just spending time with a friend without need to say or do anything. Receding panic and fear as you determine you will not back down from a physical altercation. And so much more.

Now imagine that you are returned to your apartment. With excitement you hit Facebook and Twitter to let everyone know about what you have seen and done. Exactly how crazy will they believe you are? How much of a liar?

This is a modern retelling of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” from The Republic. It’s used to explain the concept of Platonic Forms. The idea is that every object is an imperfect representations of a true perfect “form” of that object. This holds true for chairs, dogs, justice, and love. Philosophers continue to have a field day discussing Plato’s form and whether it is true. For me the interesting point to the story is when we experience something that is more real than reality, how do we explain it? As Catholics, how can we explain to those who have never experienced them the Sacraments.

How can we explain the feeling of coming up from the waters of Baptism and knowing that something is different. Something is new?

How can we explain being Confirmed and the contentment of being home in a Church that is Christ’s creation and like a mother to us?

How can we explain the being in the presence of Christ during Eucharistic adoration and the encounter with Him when receiving the Eucharist?

How can we explain the shame and trepidation in going to Confession and the peace that begins at the words, “God, the Father of Mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son, has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins.”?

How can we explain the emotional safe harbor that is Marriage?

How can we explain knowing a surgery is going to be ok after the Anointing of the Sick?

I’m not sure that non believers will understand or believe, but we have to find a way.

All Things New

photo by Sarah Herod

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, (for) the old order has passed away. The one who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Also, he said “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:4-5

Do you believe these words of the Lord?
Do you have something in your past that you are ashamed of?
Do you carry hurts and pain from long ago?
Do you feel the burden of daily personal and worldly trials?
Today is for you!

Every bit of your past and present and future,  Jesus saw in the Garden and on the Cross…
every bit of it.
And He loved you all the more! In fact, when he said “I thirst.”, he was asking for much more than water. If it took such tremendous effort and pain to push up on his feet just to get a breath while hanging on the cross, then each and every word spoken there must have the most important meaning. He was saying, “I thirst for souls. Do not let what I have offered for you be in vain. Please accept my Love. Please come to me all you who are heavily burdened. I will give you eternal rest.”

So, take all of those things and bury them. They were with Jesus when He was on Calvary. He wants them buried with Him in the tomb.

You bury them too.
Bury them deep. Ask the Lord to help you.

And if you are Catholic, and need the Sacrament of Reconciliation then go! Go and spill out all your past transgressions, and know the power of forgiveness through the absolution of the priest’s blessing over you. When you receive it, you know you have been forgiven, and can let go of it forever. We have Our Lord’s promise in his own words to the apostles! “Whose sins you shall forgive they shall be forgiven.” There is nothing the Lord will not forgive if we have but a little sorrow, and the desire not to offend Him again. And there is no greater freedom!! Start fresh. We can always start fresh. It is a new day!

If you do this, you are planting a seed along with all the refuse you have buried.

And what is deeply buried can spring forth new life.

This is the transforming power of Jesus’ Resurrection.

“Behold, I make all things new!!”

Do you believe it?

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Happy Easter!!!

God is Dead: For the Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays of Our Lives

It was a sunny Good Friday in Tennessee (Laudare HQ), but at 3’oclock yesterday the world lost its Light. The one Hope that mankind had in one Man was stuffed out. And this Light that had been among men once shined a brilliant glow, but leading to that fateful hour it began to fade as it flickered towards its doom. Then, when the hour came, the world descended into a darkness not seen since before the creation of the universe, for the Son of God Himself, the Word which gave rise to all things, was murdered though He had done no wrong. In the brutal Passion and Death of Jesus was the encapsulation of every thing wrong in life. The Cross of His execution and the thorns crowned around His head were every thing unfair in this world. The spit and slanders which Our Lord had grown accustomed to were the cruelty of man’s inhumanity to man. Thus, the entire life of Jesus, born among suffering and dying in an undeserved shame, was the very problem of evil itself. Cries seeking an answer for such innocent and seemingly unreasonable suffering went without a response from any thing said to be Above while Jesus writhed in unbearable pain affixed to two planks of rugged wood. When Christ bowed His head going limp in a final defeat, evil and bad men won. Only in this moment could Nietzsche’s proclamation ever be true – God is dead.

Now, it’s a Holy Saturday in Tennessee. Once again it’s sunny, but this light I see as I peer out my window is a mirage. On this day the Christ of our lives was no longer present in His Body. Rather, His Body lied in a tomb while the Father lied in heaven. But had Jesus lied about what He claimed concerning Himself? I have no doubt that this was the question on the mind of the first believers and His Apostles on the day after Jesus died. Time must have lingered on insufferably while they waited for a magnificent something. They had little clue about what it would even look like. They caught a glimmer of it in Lazarus, but what about the Messiah? There must have been that utter gut-churning feeling of anxiety that we all feel while waiting on some type of crucial result resting in the pit of their hearts. In this solemn waiting, just like in His Passion and Death, is captured something that touches our frustration at the way things are. For, on a sunny day when the only Hope there ever was appears to be gone, how can merely the heat of day warm my soul? When evil and suffering has taken out all the good in the world in an onslaught of pain, what joy could anything left in it provide me? When the problem of evil seems to lack a proper resolution where do I go to get any answers? Many of us have been through exactly this moment of unwavering despair. Not restricted to just one manifestation, it takes many forms. It can be mental with doubt. It can be emotional with our failings and those of other Christians, especially among the leadership. It can be physical as in the poverty of health or wealth. And it can be spiritual as in the dryness of prayer and devotion. Not to mention how we can even experience a mix of some or all of these types of sufferings at one time. We are followers of the Christ who brought joy and relief to all those who chose to trust in Him during man’s encounter with the God made flesh two millennia ago, but where is our joy and relief on those certain rough days of our soul’s journey? There are times when we have Good Fridays, and we bear a cross. Afterwards, we might die an inner death of spirit; our light, and hope seems stuffed out. Meanwhile, the rest of our being endures a prolonged Holy Saturday, waiting and praying for a resurrection of our inner life. We reach out to God, but, as the Jews beheld the Man, we behold the silence. For the Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays of our lives, what are we to do?

 

Look to Him, and wait for Him.

This is what the first believer and Saints did, and so this is what we shall do as well.

 

I have thought this for a long time: Christianity has the absolute best response and remedy to the problem of evil and suffering. We have a God who became man and not only experienced the problem of evil, but this same God of the trenches encapsulated with His whole earthly life not only the problem itself but the solution to it – enduring trust, love, mercy, and a hope that just won’t die all rolled up into one. He did not shy away from suffering, but rather faced it like we all have to face it and found the reason for why life is worth living in the first place, to give it up for the sake of others. Jesus felt the pitch black of evil, death, and the apparent absence of God. We feel it to. However, within us, as in Jesus, is the undying conviction that good cannot die, and hope can never truly be all lost. That is why even in the midst of tragedy we send ourselves right in the thick of evil. That is why we are first responders careening towards the potential doom of fire, nature and man’s fallen wrath, or a building soon crashing to the earth in order to save the life endangered by it. That is why when we die we also send ourselves to the grieving in support. That is why when we as Christians our bombed at two different churches like the Copts of Egypt were at the start of this year’s Holy Week, we stand bravely in the face of evil screaming the Nicene Creed towards the horizon hiding those who want us dead. The human capacity for fighting for and towards the good will always be present because we were created by the Absolute and Everlasting God Who is Goodness Itself. What else but the Gospel of Christ ministers to this undeniable sense within the human heart with such truth stranger than fiction and more powerful than death? What else but the story of Christ has all of our stories contained in the Life and Death and Life Again of one Man? What else but the blood of Jesus flowing from the pages of the evangelium vitae can give us the breath of a new existence? What other god became man to die for the sins of all and continues to march their gospel across the face of the earth for 2000 years, which STILL enraptures the countless hearts of men and women with love and mission? Nothing else and no One else.

Even when God was on the earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, He did not do-away with either Good Fridays or Holy Saturdays, but instead went through both and promised to be with us when we go through ours. Some may cry “where is a good God is the midst of suffering,” but the one good God there is would want us to experience every kind of good there is. This includes the goods only found in relation to suffering, like mercy, forgiveness, and longsuffering. And all of this is for us to attain the greatest good of becoming the righteous sons and daughters of God. For, if it is true that “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21),” then we can replace “sin” with “the problem of evil” and see how it all comes together and work for the same purpose of making us Saints. We become Saints on our Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays precisely when we have nothing to cling to because every earthly thing means nothing to us anymore and yet still choose to love God because He is the only thing we have left when the pleasures of this world evanesce. When we chose the love of God in this life we chose that same love in the life to come after the Resurrection where we will still have our free will but love God so much that we won’t care to do anything else but love Him. And if Christianity, the Truth of God revealed to man, has the best response to the problem of evil, then Catholicism, the fullness of that same Truth, takes it a step further with its time-perfected teaching and stress upon the redemptive nature of suffering, in which earthly suffering, when united to the infinite value of Christ’s suffering, can help attain the grace needed for the remission of the sins of oneself and others. This imbues suffering with the mercy of God, granting it the greatest meaning of all. Thus, your Good Fridays and Holy Saturdays when pain is at its worst and God’s relief seems far off can be truly good and holy because of the souls you help save and the Saints you help make with the offering up of your own pangs of life’s sting. You might not ever know them in this life, but they will certainly greet you in heaven and love you forever after they are resurrected unto new life in glory like their Savior was. In this you accomplish the same meaning of life and suffering that Christ lived when He came to earth – to give both up for the love of God and the salvation of souls.

 

With all this in mind, we can sufficiently look and wait for God in the midst of our trials just as the Apostle waited for their Jesus to resurrect from the dead to be their Christ. It will still not be easy, however. Just like the mystery of the Resurrection, finding good in suffering can be hard at times to understand, but we must have faith in that same good we know is there somewhere waiting for us to find it and find God as a result. Just as sure as Sunday comes after Friday and Saturday, let us wait with confidence that His rising from the dead, and ours, will come after every Good Friday and Holy Saturday, even if a descent into hell itself is required before it comes.

Good Friday Happened

 

Our Good Friday Veneration of the Cross service last night was so moving and beautiful, people were in tears. The priest and deacons laying prostrate on the floor in humble submission to the Lord, the Church filled with so many people who, one by one, venerate the crucifix (the corpus of Jesus on a cross) held by the deacon, with a kiss or some other gesture of love, the respect and honor with which Our Lord in the Eucharist is brought out of “repose” in order for us to receive Him on this very solemn, most important day, was all so touching, and just one reason that I love being Catholic.

We fast, we pray, and we remember.

There is no greater Love than what happened on Good Friday for each and every one of us! There is no Easter without the suffering beyond any human suffering that Jesus Christ endured for us, just so we could be happy with him in heaven. It is so right to not only remember it, but with great humility and love to revere Him and thank Him. I am not worthy or deserving of this love, but at least I can be grateful.

And so I thank you Jesus, thank you, thank you for loving me this much. I thank you for giving me the gift of faith, and the gift of your Church, my family and just… everything!

Jesus, I love you so much! I wish everybody loved you!